Dr. Leonel Fernández Suggests Creation of Legal Mechanism to Sanction Cases of Religious Blasphemy and Insult during UNESCO High-Level Debate

September 24, 2012

On Friday, September 21, 2012, during the high-level debate: convened by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at United Nations Headquarters in New York City, Dr. Leonel Fernández, Former President of the Dominican Republic and President Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (GFDD) and Fundación Global Democracia y Desarrollo (FUNGLODE), recommended that the United Nations consider creating an international legal mechanism to prohibit and penalize religious blasphemy and insult.

During the forum, which commemorated the International Day of Peace, the former Dominican President referred to the wave of violence that erupted in countries with large Muslim populations over the release of an amateur video that has been viewed as insulting to the Prophet

“I believe we are all in agreement that freedom of expression and freedom of the flow of ideas need not necessarily signify that there are no limits to their exercise,” indicated Dr. Fernández.

The Former Head of State commented that under different national legislations, mechanisms have been established to try cases of infraction for defamation and slander.

“If this can be achieved at the
national level, why not consider the possibility of devising an internationally-binding framework for UN Member States capable of prohibiting and punishing for blasphemy as an act of depreciating insult and lack of respect for something considered sacred?” put forth the former president.

Dr. Fernández stated that he found it striking that an amateur video on the Prophet Mohammed, put in circulation by an individual through the use of new social communication
media, has unleashed a wave of disturbances, protests and assassinations throughout different parts of the Arab world.

“Reflecting upon the occurrence of these regrettable events, I believe it is necessary to analyze, from a new perspective, the role of communication media and its impact on continued and accelerated technological change within an interconnected and culturally diverse planet,” asserted Dr. Fernández.

The President of
GFDD and FUNGLODE asked the question: “How, in a world without borders, of wireless communication, can an individual, instantly and without control, only with audiovisual material, be capable of provoking the fury that set off violence in various parts of the world.”

He affirmed that this act regarding the Prophet Mohammed makes evident that any conflict can spread to other parts of the world, as a result of the information and communications
technology revolution. “For the first time in history, any individual in any part of the world can be a provider of communication media content.”

He declared that taking into account UNESCO’s interest in promoting the use of information and communications technology for the promotion of peace, not violence, tolerance and intercultural dialogue, it would be of great value to consider the inclusion of a new international legal focus regarding
the utilization of cyberspace and global digital media in its new Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence.

Along these lines, he maintained that communications media, in place of being perceived as instruments of hate and insult to human dignity and religious beliefs, could be converted into the ideal catalyst for peace, understanding, solidarity and pluralism in the new world order.

The high-level debate also featured interventions
by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon; Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO; Vuk Jeremic, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia and President of the 67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly; Nasser David Khalili, Founder of the Khalili Collections; Wole Soyinka, Member of the High-Level Panel of UNESCO on Peace and Intercultural Dialogue; Forest Whitaker, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador; and Elie Wiesel, President of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for

Related links: